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Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is rather disappointing to see on today's Order Paper that the Science and Technology Committee is not to be constituted prior to the summer recess, especially given the Government's commitment to a knowledge-based economy, in which matters to do with science, engineering and technology should feature prominently? Is it his view that that Committee is not as important as othersor can he give some other reason?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend will be aware that we have set up every other departmental Select Committee and, indeed, pretty well every other Select Committee of the House. Seventeen of them met yesterday. The sole reason why we have not been able to set up the Science and Technology Committee is that we do not have a satisfactory number of nominations to it. That matter is beyond the powers of the Leader of the House.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Why on earth have we not had a statement from the Prime Minister about Northern Ireland? Does it not seem odd, even to the Leader of the House, that there were protracted crisis talks last week but the House of Commons has not been informed of where we are, where we are going, what is going on, who said what and what the Government expect to happen? How can we possibly contemplate a summer
Mr. Cook: Since the Prime Minister is due to attend the G8 summit tomorrow, I should have thought that most Members, if not the right hon. Gentleman, would attach greater importance to the agenda of reducing world poverty, launching a trade round
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman speaks for himself and says that he does not attach importance to poverty reduction, the world trade round or tackling the AIDS epidemic in Africa, with which my right hon. Friend will be dealing on Friday[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman perfectly illustrated why a statement on Northern Ireland at the present time might not help. He demanded to know who said what to whom. I cannot imagine a statement detailing that as anything other than disastrous in the context of talks that are continuing and will continue during the recess.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the increasing number of personal injuries resulting from the use of air rifles and air pistols? Is he aware that such attacks can often result not only in blindness and partial blindness but in permanent brain damage? Will he give Members an early opportunity to debate measures to regulate, if not prohibit, the use of those weapons?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has raised a serious issue and I fully understand his concern, which he has expressed to me privately as well as publicly. I can assure him that there will be many opportunities after we return from the recess to debate crime and criminal justice. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to make his comment in that context.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): In March, the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told us that foot and mouth was under control. Yesterday, there were 10 confirmed cases. Will the Leader of the House review the information and advice given to farmers by the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her Department about what they have to do in the course of this outbreak? Public footpaths are open, some through farmyards, yet farmers are told in a pamphlet and video issued by the Department to wash their wellies and change their overalls between every task. Public footpaths through farmers' own farmyards are open, yet if their children visit neighbouring
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the statement made yesterday about footpaths provides that some of the counties most affected, such as Cumbria and Devon, can retain blanket bans. In other counties where blanket bans have been removed, it remains open to local authorities to close individual footpaths; indeed, they would be expected to close footpaths within 3 km of any affected farm. It is important that farmers and others involved in the livestock industry observe every possible biosecurity measure because they handle animals and are therefore at greater risk than people walking across the land.
[That this House expresses concern at President Bush's intention to move beyond the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in developing missile defence; and endorses the unanimous conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which recommended that the Government voice the grave doubts about NMD in the UK, questioned whether US plans to deploy NMD represent an appropriate response to the proliferation problems faced by the international community and recommended that the Government encourage the USA to explore all ways of reducing the threat it perceives.]
To date, 264 Members of Parliament have expressed deep concern about the United States proposals to tear up the anti-ballistic missile treaty and deploy the national missile defence system. Given that the Prime Minister is today meeting President Bush and that the matter will no doubt be discussed, does he have any intention of coming to the House and making a statement about our position before we go into recess?
Mr. Cook: I have no doubt whatever that that matter will be on the agenda when the Prime Minister meets President Bush and that they will be asked about it when they conclude their discussions. The American Administration are not proposing, as my hon. Friend put it, to tear up the anti-ballistic missile treaty. What they are doing, and what we have encouraged them to do, is have a dialogue with Russia to see if they can find an alternative strategic framework. We should encourage the United States and Russia to reach that agreement; I would not rule out the possibility that it can be reached.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Could the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House and explain why there is such discrimination against small livestock farmers? When they are taking small loads of animals to slaughter they have to have them inspected twice by vets, whereas large farmers can take their animals straight to slaughter and are subject to only one inspection.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shares the concern that has been expressed in the House about the stubborn tail-end of the disease and the failure to achieve the point, which we all want to get to, of total eradication. He has invited my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at what further measures we might take to speed up the eradication of the disease.
[That this House recognises that the 50 per cent. clawback by the Government of any surplus of the Mineworkers' Pension and Superannuation Scheme is grossly unfair; and invites the Government and the trustees of the Pension and superannuation Scheme to enter into negotiations and agree upon a more just appointment of the surplus and so enhance the pensions of thousands of retired mineworkers and widows.]
The early-day motion draws the attention of the House to the fact that the Treasury still receives half of all the surpluses from the mineworkers' pension scheme and the staff superannuation scheme. My right hon. Friend may well be aware that the combined value of those two schemes is about £25 billion. The average pension paid to a member of the mineworkers' pension scheme is about £36, and 28,000 beneficiaries to the scheme receive about £10. Will my right hon. Friend therefore urge the Treasury team to meet the administrators of the scheme as soon as possible to review the 50 per cent. take with a view to devising a procedure that will make more money available to those beneficiaries at the bottom of the pile?